The Minnesota Vikings have had a history of bringing in players who were teammates with one another in college, although the team’s general manager, Rick Spielman, insists that it is just a coincidence. This has primarily been happening through the draft the past few seasons, but it has also happened via free agency.
It all seemed to start in 2011 when the Vikings drafted tight end Kyle Rudolph out of Notre Dame. The following offseason they drafted a pair of safeties from Notre Dame, Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton. While Smith and Blanton may not have been as close with Rudolph, since they played on opposite sides of the ball, they were still teammates with him. They also were surely comfortable playing along with one another since that is what they had done in college.
The Vikings have also brought in a number of UCLA Bruins players who had a history of playing alongside one another. The Vikings drafted punter Jeff Locke back in 2013 and then brought in his college long snapper, Kevin McDermott, last offseason as a free agent to compete for the starting long snapper spot. He ended up earning the starting job, thus reuniting the two teammates.
Then there is the case of linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. The two worked together at UCLA and were good friends there. Barr left school a year early and was taken by the Vikings in the first round of the 2014 draft. Kendricks decided to play through his senior year in college and ended up being drafted by the Vikings in the second round of the 2015 draft. The two worked together as the two linebackers in nickel situations last year and were then on the field together in base defense once Kendricks earned the starting middle linebacker role.
As a side note, offensive guard/tackle Mike Harris was also at UCLA around the same time as some of these other players, entering the NFL in 2012, but he may not have been as close with them since he played on offense.
This offseason the Vikings also re-united former Texas teammates Brian Robison and Michael Griffin. They were both a part of the defense that won the 2005 National Championship and both entered the NFL in 2007. Robison has spent his entire career with the Vikings, but Griffin is joining them for the first time after spending his entire career with the Tennessee Titans.
The Vikings brought together two college teammates once again this offseason by drafting a pair of Clemson defensive backs, cornerback Mackensie Alexander and safety Jayron Kearse. Alexander went in the second round, so he couldn’t know what would transpire later in the draft, but Kearse touched on how nice it was to end up with a college teammate after he was selected in the seventh round.
“It will definitely make it a lot easier,” Kearse said about transitioning to the NFL with someone he already knows. “Being at Clemson for three years together and knowing each other prior going to college, we are going to have that chemistry from Day 1. When you come in with guys from other schools and they don’t know the same communication that you know so you are on different pages. Being with Mackensie Alexander, we are on the same page so it is going to be a lot easier for both him and I.”
The two actually grew up about 15 minutes apart, so their history with one another extends well beyond just college. They grew up in high school together, played 7-on-7 with one another and also prepared for college together. So they have a good relationship and now they get to carry that over into the NFL.
While the drafting and reuniting of teammates may just be be a coincidence, it certainly helps the players. Entering into a new locker room that is filled with players that are already good friends with one another can be overwhelming for new players - whether they are rookies or veterans. It’s always nice to have someone in that locker room they already know because they already have built a relationship with them.
It gives the players someone they can lean on early as they continue to adapt to the new environment, ultimately making their transition that much easier.